Something happened to me last week that I am not proud of. I was momentarily fooled by an Onion News story headline. In my defense, though, it was appearing on the front page of Google News under it’s “Spotlight” section, along with the “real” news. At the time I thought including parody on the page was some sort of oversight. Since then, I’ve been seeing more and more changes taking place with Google News. It seems the requirements on having content that is actually “news”, are being lifted, and every online hack who can mash some keys is now rushing to take advantage of it.
Just minutes previous to this article first being posted, the above screen shot was taken showing the headline “I will not read your fucking script” on the main page. It demonstrates a notable slackening in Google’s vetting process, as the article from the Village Voice, an ego-driven rant by an obscure self-proclaimed “professional” is being featured.
The Village Voice, which is not “news” by any reasonable definition to begin with, is now providing Google News’ front page with profanity laced headlines. Is it possible some high school dropouts over at the Voice are having some sort of competition with college dropouts at the “Daily Mail”? I imagine it’s for readers of Google News to judge which of the two use the most juvenile-shock tactics in their headlines. To the Daily Mail’s credit, it only implies profanity (within the context of quotes) in it’s headlines, rather than stating expletives itself for no other purpose than to attract attention.
Lately, I’ve been perplexed as to why private blogs and opinion pieces, or amateur trash-tabloid like “Glosslip”, keeps being endorsed by Google as “news”. I’m now finding myself wondering if these are oversights, or a deliberate attempt at keeping “current”, in a society exercising less and less discretion over, and adopting lower and lower standards of, information sources. At least we can find some solace that these “merchants of chaos”, make little attempt to mask their motives and tactics, but does Google really benefit from giving them a platform to do it?
It’s not the profanity I necessarily take issue with, though I don’t think it belongs in a headline, and find it ironic considering Google’s attempt to remain family friendly through filters. The profanity is just the latest inappropriate content to be heralded by Google News’ front page as “news”. I suspect if this trend continues, many people will begin to look elsewhere for news aggregation.
Click here for original screen shot (without commentary).
Update: Google appears to have removed the link to the Village Voice article from it’s news page around 9:00 pm EST. As of this time, Google has not responded to a request for comment, upon being made aware of this issue.
Update: As of 11:02 pm EST today, the article is back on Google News. It appears as though it was initially pulled and then a decision was made to reinsert it. Click here for an archived version of the entire front page in zip format (uses MegaUpload). In addition to it’s return, it is now being listed as one of the most popular news articles by Google. Apparently, the attention-grabbing use of profanity in a headline is paying off for the Village Voice, as more and more people click the article out of curiosity, or to voice their disdain in it’s comment section.
Update: Google News eventually removed the headline. It’s also notable that it appears Google also removed this article from the index of their search engine. I can confirm it was indeed indexed, and appearing in searches. There is now no direct link to the article from Google. I’m not sure how much more underhanded they could possibly get.
Question for readers: Is this just smart marketing on behalf of the unskilled writers over at the Village Voice, or will a reader backlash lead to better judgment in the future on their part? Do you believe Google News should be putting headlines with profanity on the front page?
See Should Google News Be Swearing At You? for more comments.
Update 09/13/09: Google refused to acknowledge requests for comment, though it’s clear they received them. This article was banned from Google’s search index a few days after it was posted. I can confirm it was originally appearing in search results. There is no no direct link to this article. A Google employee responded to a user complaint of this issue by saying “Thanks for bringing this inappropriate content to our attention. We’ll contact the Village Voice following your alert.” This is a laughable deflection of responsibility. Village Voice did not make a mistake with their headline. Google made the mistake, by featuring it, and ignoring complaints about the inappropriate content, then trying to cover-up the story by removing articles about it from their search engine. Give me a break, Google. “Do no evil”, alright.